Another Man’s Treasure?

Yesterday marked the “weekiversary” of my move to the big city (which, for someone from Dayton, could literally refer to almost anywhere). I always joke to Dayton newcomers that they’ve moved to the “thriving metropolis” of Dayton. In reality, I don’t think Dayton has grown in population since the Dayton Coal & Iron Company days back in the early 20th century. And now that I’ve become acquainted with much of Charlotte, I can truly say I’m now living in a thriving metropolis. Uptown (which is their downtown) is a massive conglomeration of corporate headquarters, indoor sidewalks, building projects, publicly funded parks and attractions, and sports stadiums. Yet for all its massiveness, it’s friendly, inviting, clean, and safe–this isn’t Nashville, Memphis, or Atlanta by any means. So while I feel out of my league with the traffic, the hoards of people I don’t know and who won’t talk to me in the grocery store, and the infinite variety of different shops and stores, I nonetheless feel good and welcomed. It’s funny: most people at RTS visited the city and the school before they committed to attending. I did neither. I had heard it was a good city and a perfect school for training campus ministers, so I applied and committed in the blind. And yet God has blessed my decision nonetheless, and has helped me feel at rest in this chaotic city.

While it’s been a peaceful transition, it’s been quite an adventure, too. None of us moved to Charlotte with any furniture to speak of, so we’ve taken to scavenging the garbage. And let me tell you: Charlotte has some nice garbage. I think trash day is becoming my favorite day of the week; last Monday we grabbed a six foot bookshelf from the street, doomed for the incinerator. Now it provides a home for my favorite literature. And just yesterday, we grabbed a solid wood dining room table from my neighbor’s trash pile. It needs some repair, but it’ll suffice for four poor seminary lads. After grabbing the table, one of my roommates and I spied a dryer sitting on the curb. We packed it into my little Mazda and took it back with us–most of it was still sniffing the open air as we drove it home.  After we plugged it in, we realized why it had been discarded. I guess some people throw away stuff because it’s actually trash. But it was worth a try, and we found 15 cents in the tumbler, which was more than payment in full for dragging that thing over to the house. We put the dryer on our curb to welcome the garbage men in the morning, but it didn’t last an hour and a half before another group of scavengers drove by and took it for themselves: while we got 15 cents, they’ll just get a broken dryer.

For all the adventure of dumpster diving, most of our furniture has come from the generosity of others. It’s amazing to step back and see how we have miraculously furnished our home within one week’s time without cleaning out our wallets. It’s cliche to use the parable of Christ’s feeding the 5000 as an illustration, but I can’t think of a better reference when noting how we moved to this city with a few odd pieces of furniture and how He multiplied it through the generosity of others. A few months ago I was talking to a good friend of mine about how much I still need to afford seminary and living expenses. As we talked, her little daughter ran into the house and came back holding six wrinkled one dollar bills. She offered them to me and asked, “Will this pay for seminary?” God has taken that little heart of generosity and multiplied the sentiment 10-fold, stirring in the hearts of families a willingness to give us furniture and food to stock our living room and pantry. If you’d have talked to me a few months ago, I would have told you I wished I could be independently wealthy so I wouldn’t have to worry about where my bed or dresser would come from: I could just buy it. But I’ve learned something far more valuable this week: What’s better than being wealthy? Being needy. For it is in our need that we get  the chance to see the great miracle of multiplication from the loving hand of our Heavenly Father; and it is in our call for help that we chance to feel the deep love of the Family of Faith.

They say that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” But when it comes to generosity, I think it’s treasure for all. When someone gives away something as valuable as five loaves and two fish, or as simple as an old couch from their first apartment a decade ago, everyone comes out a winner. Jesus says that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. That blessing will come in different forms and at different times, but as we develop a habit of generosity we will find that the act of giving and receiving God’s way–giving in grace and because of grace; giving without expectation of reciprocation because God gives to us with no strings attached–we are that much closer to the heart of God and the beating pulse of healthy Christian community. And what could be a more valuable treasure than that?

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